Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists, and Iconoclasts, the Programmers Who Created the Software Revolution

By Steve Lohr | Go to book overview

1
Introduction: The Rise of Software
and the Programm i ng Art

A LONE SAILBOAT IN THE DISTANCE makes its way across the rippled surface of Lake Washington in the crisp autumn dusk, framed on the horizon by the skyline of Seattle. The view is from the lakeside home of Charles Simonyi, who was a 17-year-old computer programming prodigy when he left Budapest for good in 1966. Since then, he has come a remarkable distance, in every sense. His house, though all but invisible from the road, sweeps down the hillside toward the water's edge, covers more than 20,000 square feet and includes a library, computer lab, fitness center, and swimming pool. Made of glass, wood, and steel, the home is a work of high modernism, outside and in. The black floors ofpolished stone glisten, and visitors are asked to remove their shoes. The walls are bare except for works of modern art by Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, and Victor Vasarely. Besides art, Simonyi collects jets. He has two, including a retired NATO fighter, which he flies. His multimillion-dollar philanthropic donations have placed his name on an endowed chair at Oxford University and on the mathematics building at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Simonyi fled Hungary as a teenager with nothing, but he now regards money with the nonchalance of the billionaire he has become. "I have no mercenary reasons for things anymore," he said.

Simonyi owes it all to software, and his uncanny facility with computer code— aided, of course, by good timing, good luck, and the whimsy of capitalism. His

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